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The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has received numerous questions regarding whether the Hatch Act restricts federal employees from expressing their views about the current conflict between Israel and Hamas and other related topics. In response, OSC today issued an advisory opinion to inform federal employees of when and how the Hatch Act might apply to such speech.
The relevant provision of the Hatch Act prohibits employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace. Speaking about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas is not political activity unless that speech also suggests domestic electoral action or shows support for, or opposition to, domestic political parties, partisan political groups, or candidates for partisan political office.
For example, it is not political activity for an employee to say, “I support/oppose a cease fire between Israel and Hamas and encourage everyone I know to write their Senators and Representatives to build support for that position." Similarly, it is not political activity for an employee to say, “I support/oppose the administration's approach to the conflict between Israel and Hamas." However, it is political activity for an employee to say, “I support/oppose a cease fire between Israel and Hamas and encourage everyone I know to vote out any Senators or Representatives who disagree," or “I support/oppose the administration's approach to the conflict between Israel and Hamas and therefore will vote for/against President Biden in 2024."
Even if the speech is political activity, the Hatch Act only prohibits employees from engaging in that speech while on duty or in the federal workplace, provided that employees otherwise comply with the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act similarly does not prohibit employees from attending or participating in issue-based demonstrations, rallies, or other events. Please note that this opinion addresses only the Hatch Act, and employees should consult with their agency ethics officials about any other laws, rules, or regulations that may apply.
The full advisory opinion can be found here.